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Los Angeles -- Not Really that Angelic

Column by Jonathan Richmond

Advisory Board

The cab driver grinned as he handed me the morning Herald with the crashed jet sprawled across the front page. Two minutes later we were at Logan.

Up all night, working like the graduate student I thought I no longer was, I'd missed my flight and was now en route to American Airlines for their 9 a.m. departure to Los Angeles.

You can generally go to the gate and hand the agent a ticket from any other airline, or even possibly a piece of paper with a smiley face on it, and be allowed to fly, but I had a bag to check, so a trip to the front counter was in order. I got there at 8:30 to face a fifteen minute wait, a surly and misinformed employee, and ten minutes of bureaucratic delay.

Despite the airline's efforts, I got on the flight, which was promptly delayed for forty-five minutes. The passengers listened with clenched teeth to an entertaining description of the procedures for ensuring the wings were de-iced. My bag, left behind in Boston, was delayed for longer.

Wearily, I gazed at the buff envelope handed me upon arrival at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration, where I stood ready to face the consequences of the article headlined "Sex and the Single Subway" the Los Angeles Times had written about me two days previously. "Execution of Richmond agreement," the envelope said. "Agreement for execution on Monday in your office," I read on.

I realized I needed to get my new contract notarized...

And so to Interstate 5, a traffic-frozen freeway of late-afternoon misery.

I wonder whether getting kicked out of the City of Commerce Travelodge Suites Motel deserves a place on my resume. The manager of this facility, whose matchbox rooms look out on the frenzied I-5 on one side and the almost equally noisy Slauson Avenue on the other, had argued over accepting a discount voucher his reservations staff had told me I could use, and suggested I check out.

Looking into dinner possibilities in Beverly Hills the following night, I ventured into the Wilshire hotel. The silent alarms went off as the matre d'htel detected the presence of a grubby, unmoneyed, and tweedily-dressed Englishman. Though no one in the room so much as batted an eyelash, the maitre'd beckoned me towards the exit, and I strolled on.

I passed on the opportunity to dine on "Scrambled Tofu" or "Vegan Cutlets Franaise" at the Veg Gourmet, and hesitated only briefly at the Caviarteria -- eschewing the chance to buy a kilo of the stuff for a mere $2,450 -- before arriving at Critter Caterers, "A Pet Bakery and Boutique."

Critter caters for the gourmet canine takeout market, supplying dog biscuits intricately crafted in the shapes of bagels and croissants and, for the social crowd, "party platters" for $25. Conscientious owners can ensure that their pooch is admitted to the Wilshire with the purchase of a dog tuxedo for $45 or a Chanel collar and leash set for $102.

I considered dining at Critter Caterers, but the prices were too high for human consumption. It's a dog's life.

My return trip began inauspiciously. The traffic was backed up on I-10, and I missed my flight back to Boston. I stood by for a later one. I was assigned seat 1F and was happy because it was in first class, courtesy of a free upgrade Continental sends out periodically to those masochistic enough to fly with them on a regular basis.

But I turned out to be the third person to have come to claim the seat, and the first arrival had firmly cemented himself in place to minimize the high risk of displacement.

The gate agent came to attend to the confusion, and I was reassigned to 20F -- in coach. There were only two people who had been assigned this seat, but since even Continental won't strap two people in one seat, I was re-directed to the empty aisle seat in the last row, Continental's prison class.

None of the seats in the back row would recline, but the ones in front certainly did, wedging into the chests of the hapless victims in the back. Across the aisle were two security agents with a prisoner placed between them, handcuffed for some of the time. One of the guards got up at one point and was overheard discussing the merits of mace and handcuffs with one of the cabin crew.

Was the Continental ambience intended to make the prisoner feel "at home?" The inedible dinner appeared to be made of reconstituted plastic doggy doo, and would have triggered a riot in any self-respecting jail. And while ordinary fare-paying passengers have no chance to complain, shouldn't Alan Dershowitz be arguing that this is cruel and unusual punishment for prisoners?

The cabbie at Logan was in an irritated mood. Traffic was at a standstill due to work on the road. "They must have a completely naked woman doing it," he said, "and everybody's stopping to look."

The next night I thought I'd go round to play with the kids from pika to unwind from all this, when I realized I'd just locked myself out. With one call I produced a full-service Cambridge fire engine screeching round the corner, three uniformed firemen, and a police officer, who obligingly helped me open my bedroom door. Ah, the joys of home.